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Zim’s wheat farmers struggle to get payments

The government  says it will pay wheat farmers 75% in US dollars and 25% in local currency for their produuce.

Wheat farmers in some parts of Zimbabwe are singing the blues despite recent government assurances that all outstanding grain payments would have been paid by the end of last month.

It has emerged that most wheat farmers are swimming in debt and failing to honour their debts, including paying wages to farm workers.

The government, through the Grain Marketing Body (GMB), has not made good on its promises made recently by Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Rural Development minister Anxious Masuka that outstanding payments would be made.

In separate interviews with this publication commercial and small scale wheat farmers in Mashonaland West spoke of the hardships they are facing in their farming operations due to late payments of wheat.

The wheat was delivered to GMB in October last year.

Others said they had maintained minimum farming operations while making losses due to what they referred to as  “strings attached”, which do not make it easy to  quit farming such as the government-funded Pfumvudza farming schemes.

The plight of farmers and farm workers was also highlighted at last week's Workers Day celebrations where labour representatives revealed that in some cases labourers had gone for more than six months without wages.

According to statistics, last season Zimbabwe had a bumper harvest of 2.3 million tonnes of maize against the yearly requirement of about 1.8 million tonnes.

Disgruntled farmers said despite these figures being proof of improved production, the government was not complementing their efforts as shown by delayed payments.

“Farmers are already in the middle of the 2023/24 season with wheat deliveries of 2022/23 season yet to be paid,” said one Chegutu farmer, asking that he be not identified.

“The few that have been paid were only given the RTGS component. The  nostro payments are still outstanding.”

Farmers who have paid in local currency said they were getting a raw deal as foreign currency exchange rates had gone up more than 1 000% since last October when the wheat was delivered to GMB.

The government  says it will pay wheat farmers 75% in US dollars and 25% in local currency for their produuce.

“How justifiable is it to let farmers get into the next season without being paid for deliveries done the previous season?

“How is the farmer expected to run farming as a business when his or her produce is being delivered for a song if any?

“Wheat farmers were assured from the onset of the season that the government had this time around put measures in place for prompt payment of any deliveries after 72 hours to be precise,” said a female farmer.

“Farmers rushed to the  Grain Marketing Board with their produce in anticipation of the 72-hour payment after delivering.

“The 72-hour payment became a week, month, months and now into the year 2023/24 season with wheat deliveries of last season still unpaid for.”

The farmers said speculation was rife that those being paid timeously were politically  connected.

“These are the few enjoying the profits of their farming ventures and who shout out loudly that those not producing should have their farms repossessed,” claimed another farmer.

Selous farmer Graeme Vaughn revealed that he had not been paid both the rtgs and the nostro components.

“Unfortunately, there are few people earning a lot of money but the farmers on the ground trying to produce  food for the country are sinking because of it,” said Vaughn.

“I have not been paid both the local currency and the nostro components to this day.”

Vaughn said another major problem bedevilling grain farmers was that the country continued to import grain during harvest period, a move he claimed was driving prices down for the local farmer even though production costs were a lot higher than they used to be five years ago.

Vaughan has had to liquidate assets worth US$220 000 because of the current market prices.

“So, I am in a situation that I am having to take a 55% loss on assets to cover loans that should have been paid off by payments from the wheat I delivered (to GMB),” he said.

“I also have farm workers striking because I am unable to pay them. The government will collapse the farming sector in this country if they continue on this path.

“I am  now being forced to sell my assets in order to pay off loans because I have not been paid.”

Another farmer from Darwendale Humprey Mugwada said he had been paid only the local currency component.

“Delayed payments just disturb the cycle of production because crops have to fund each other,” Mugwada said.

“This year I could not  plant the intended hectares of maize. I received fertiliser and seed early but one needs diesel for land preparation, planting and application of chemicals.

“One will also need money for wages, repairs and maintenance, personal upkeep that is money needed.

“I am stuck with overpriced seed and fertiliser, which is accumulating interest monthly.”

Mugwada said the GMB prices and payment modalities were discouraging most farmers from growing maize in large quantities.

“We should be having adequate reserves to last us the drought year and more without extending the begging bowl,” he said.

Former Zimbabwe Indigenous Commercial Farmers Union President Wonder Chabikwa said most of the challenges facing farmers were man-made.

Chabikwa said those allowing the status quo to remain were benefiting while the farmer remained poorer.

GMB’s public relations department did not respond to questions from this publication despite having received them.

Masuka recently said the government, through both fiscal and monetary authorities, was  expected to unveil new macroeconomic stability measures aimed at preserving value of the local currency.

“Yes, the government apologises profusely for the delay, this has been occasioned by the delay by the Ministry of Finance, Economic Development and Investment Promotion, who are the buyers of the strategic grain reserves,” he said.

“When we get this money we pass on immediately to the Grain Marketing Board to pay farmers.

“All the Zimbabwe dollar payments for wheat have been fully met. Some component of the US dollar outstanding payment has been made.

“What has been outstanding is US$$34,9 million and the government is committed to pay this outstanding amount before the end of April 2024.

“Government profusely apologises for the delay, we will ensure that this will not recur.

“Farmers must draw confidence from these measures we are taking and that we will be able to pay timeously.”

On exchange rate volatility, Masuka said the government had adopted a deliberate strategy to pay timeously the local currency component and the amounts would be indexed to the prevailing  exchange rate of the day and not on the day the crop was delivered.

But with April having come and gone, the bulk of wheat farmers continue to sing the blues with their workers breathing down their necks for outstanding wages

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